Aurora Metro Press (300 pp.)
ISBN: 978-1906582920; September 15, 2015
In Chadwick’s (High Seas to Home, 2012) historical novel, an escaped slave girl and a former Confederate general meet in 1863 Liverpool.
This modified epistolary novel alternates between two first-person documents: “Experiences in the Life of a Slave Girl by Trinity Giddings” and “Recollections of a Confederate General by Jubal de Brooke.” Trinity is a 24-year-old slave in Charleston, South Carolina. With her family dead and her master’s unwanted sexual attentions becoming hard to avoid, she seizes a chance to escape using a fake pass and a mariner’s uniform. Trinity’s voice is distinctive, and her syntax and folksy vocabulary suit her time and station: “Short time later, this child was spying for President Lincoln. Yes I was!” she exults. She provides the novel’s life and soul, much like the character Handful in Sue Monk Kidd’s 2014 book The Invention of Wings. She sails to London and meets the American minister to Britain, and she takes the moral argument against slavery to Liverpool, “the most formidable Confederate bastion outside Dixie.” Jubal de Brooke, an unpopular man in the Confederate army due to his vocal opposition to slavery, has been sent to that city to use his dubious family connections to solicit financial help for the wartime cause. Meanwhile, he tries to overcome his debilitating battle flashbacks.
Trinity soon learns that the British are building an ironclad warship for the Confederacy, and she becomes embroiled in a scheme to steal the plans and take them to the U.S. consulate. Jubal is romantically involved with a shipbuilding heiress but also drawn to Trinity; meanwhile, he hopes that the Grand Liberty Bazaar, a fundraiser for the Southern Prisoners’ Relief Fund, is a success—as his family name depends on it. Along with the two well-drawn narrators, the novel boasts several wonderful secondary characters, including Lord Harrowby, “Britain’s oldest dandy”; States Rights Rankin, a villainous Southern senator; and Josiah Mill, a black apothecary. Shades of Charles Dickens’ work, meanwhile, appear in the novel’s descriptions (“Chilly October day. Liverpool drab-grey below an endless wash of overcast”), its twisty plot, and its quirky character names (such as “Cuthbert Longinch” and “Lazarus Hotchkiss”).
This offbeat, refreshingly absorbing Civil War novel features impeccable research and well-realized main characters.